ORONO, Maine — In football, one of the primary jobs of the offensive coordinator is to find weaknesses in opposing defenses to exploit.
For University of Maine opponents, it is pretty clear-cut what they will try to expose: the secondary.
A look at the Black Bears’ depth chart finds only one upperclassman with significant experience in the secondary: senior cornerback Sherrod Baltimore.
Cornerback Alex Ofori and safety Khari Al-Mateen have graduated and junior safety Davonte Burke will miss the season with his second knee injury.
Besides Baltimore, the other projected starters are either sophomores or a redshirt freshman.
So the Black Bears can anticipate aerial onslaughts.
“We expect it,” said sophomore strong safety Darrius Hart, who played in eight games as a true freshman last fall, including three starts, and was involved in 14 tackles. “We’ve been preparing for it since the offseason. We all know what we have to do.
“We’re ready for it.”
“Let them throw,” added a defiant Baltimore. “One thing about our defense is we’re going to be flying around to the ball like wild animals.”
Baltimore also stressed that even though he is surrounded by youth in the secondary, there is no shortage of talent.
“The talent level is way up there. The only thing they’re missing is the mental part and I’m going to try to get them there,” said Baltimore, who was credited with 27 tackles, including 18 solos, and six pass break-ups last season.
“The speed, talent and quickness is there,” said defensive coordinator Joe Harasymiak. “Now they just have to learn the technique. They’ve got to put it all together. The technique has improved since last spring.
“They’re all competitive, which helps,” he added. “They’re up to the challenge.”
“It’s mostly just mental,” said Hart. “We’re all athletes, we can make plays. But we’ve got to be in the right place at the right time. If you don’t know what you’re doing, that’s when everything goes bad.”
Baltimore and Hart will be two of the starters. Sophomore Najee Goode, who appeared in 10 games last year and had 19 tackles, will be the other cornerback and either sophomore Jason Matovu or redshirt freshman Sinmisola Demuren will be the free safety.
Junior Javar Coleman and sophomore Tayvon Hall will get reps at cornerback along with speedy sophomore A.J. Dawson. Lawrence High of Fairfield sophomore Spencer Carey will see duty at safety.
Dawson played in 10 games and was in on 27 tackles.
Hall played in six games last fall.
“They’re picking it up. They’re acting like they’ve played here before,” said senior defensive end Trevor Bates of Westbrook. “They’re doing a great job back there. They’re all athletic. They’re fast, they can move and they can jump. They’re working. If they get beat on one play, they come back on the next play and try to win that rep.
“Sherrod is doing a great job leading them. His technique is close to perfect, if not perfect. The young guys are looking up to him for guidance and he’s doing a good job with it,” Bates added.
“They are making great progress,” said Maine head coach Jack Cosgrove. “I have been very impressed with the leadership Sherrod Baltimore is providing the group. I can see Najee Goode and Darrius Hart embracing their roles, not just as players but as experienced guys who have found their voices back there.”
Hart said the experience he received last year has been valuable.
“I’m learning something every day. I never knew how important it was to learn the playbook and understand what all the other people (on defense) have to do besides myself. And I’ve learned that I have to speak up,” said Hart. “Because I was a freshman last year, I was a little timid.”
He also said the experience he received “gave me a little step forward on everybody so I can lead a little bit.”
Learning coverages and communicating among themselves will be crucial because Harasymiak doesn’t like playing soft zones that allow receivers plenty of space to run short routes before the defensive backs converge on them.
“I want to challenge the quarterbacks and make them beat us. I want to challenge every throw,” said Harasymiak. “We have a lot of guys we’re trying to fit into certain packages to showcase their talents.”
Maine will play a variety of zone and man-to-man coverages.
“It’s like a match-up zone in basketball,” explained Harasymiak.
One major plus for the Black Bear secondary that Maine is well-stocked on the defensive line and at linebacker.
“The front seven is one of our strengths. I can really look at that as a blessing,” said Cosgrove.
“We know they’re going to put pressure on the quarterback. That will be a plus for us,” added Hart.
Maine opens the season at Boston College on Saturday, Sept. 5.